Writer and sex educator Lux Alptraum will be walking through each episode of Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience for Vulture, gauging how closely it approximates what it’s like to be a sex worker, in a series of essays and interviews. Here, she breaks down episode three, "Retention" (check out her pieces on episode one and two). Follow along, and read our Girlfriend Experience recaps here.
As The Girlfriend Experience rolls into its third episode, the drama heats up. Jacqueline cuts Avery off, cleaning out her bank accounts in the process. Avery drops out of school and flees town – but not before helping herself to Christine’s savings. Burned by her two sex work confidantes, Christine decides to break ties with Jacqueline and strike out on her own, setting up shop with a few poached clients as her initial business.
But is the show’s depiction of working for a madam – and all the intrigue, blackmail, and backstabbing –true to life? To find out, I reached out to Annora Quinn, a long-time independent escort who started working for an agency when she moved to a bigger city and needed a way to connect to a network of clients. Quinn found that agency work, with its lower pay and different breed of clients, wasn’t quite to her liking, so she went independent again after less than a year.
We chatted about what it’s like to work for a madam, agency clients versus independent escort clients, and whether it actually makes sense to threaten blackmail to keep a girl from going solo.
What were your initial impressions of the show?
Well, I didn’t have huge problems with the show to start with, but part of that is because I watch a lot of crime shows. I watch Bones and it’s all about pimps and girls getting murdered, so it’s nice to see something that’s not, “You’re going to get killed if you are a sex worker of any kind.” Initially I thought it was pretty good, even though I don’t think that it’s very accurate.
So you have a low bar for good representations of sex work.
I’m really excited to talk to you because most of the sex workers I know are solely independent – I know very few who have worked with an agency or a madam. So I feel at a loss to judge the accuracy of that portion the show. What did you feel about how it was portrayed?
Some parts really did ring true. And other parts just seemed ridiculous.
Avery’s bank account getting cleared out is kind of weird. But parts where Jacqueline tries to make herself indispensable and is really friendly and offers the deposit for Christine’s apartment – I’ve definitely seen that in my experiences in agencies. It’s really easy to lose girls, so you have to get loyalty in some way. The agency I worked for, the owner of it was super friendly, always very helpful. But after a little while you see that it’s just ulterior motives, that she wants to have these really strong relationships with the girls who are popular at the moment, and then something happens and she’s like, okay, you’re cut.
But it seems ridiculous that any smart law student would give Jacqueline access to her bank account and give her that much control. And the other thing is that, at the end of the day she’s a businesswoman, she wants to keep the girls.
She presumably would not want to antagonize them.
It’s going to get back to the clients that she’s stealing money from the girls, so I think she would be more careful in that respect, because the clients that she seems to have, they care about the girls.
One thing the show really doesn’t seem to get is that, in my experience, there are clients that are clients of the agency, and there are clients that are clients of the person. And if you’re going to an agency, it’s usually for a different reason than you would have to hire an independent girl. They’re a little bit mixed up. They’re trying to make it seem like these guys are looking for a particular type of person, but really [with] clients of the agency, you keep [them] coming to the agency because you send them new girls and they don’t have to pay for a test hour, or you throw them a free hour here or there. You make them feel really important to the agency.
But the clients that Jacqueline seems to have are clients that would seek out an independent girl in the first place, because they want more of that connection with someone, and they want someone smart and real and pretty, who can go have dinner with them.
It sounds like people go to agencies because they want variety more than because they want a lasting connection.
Simplicity is part of it, too. You have a reliable agency that you can call all the time and someone will be there, and you know that they’re going to come and that’s it. The person in the pictures is going to show up, you’re going to get your proper time.
It seems like they kind of mash-up girlfriend experience sex-work with what an agency provides.
A lot of agencies will advertise girlfriend experience kind of things, but it’s different than the really like – I don’t like to use the “high class” term, but that’s kind of what it’s supposed to be on the show. A really high-end companion would never call herself a girlfriend experience escort. Maybe in terms of talking to friends, but not in terms of marketing.
Because it’s so prolific? It seems like the term is everywhere in escorting now.
Yeah. People might use the term courtesan, but they wouldn’t say girlfriend experience – I think the media just loves the idea of “girlfriend experience.”
I want to talk about Jacqueline. What struck me is that it seems like she’s simultaneously all powerful and totally powerless. She seems to destroy Avery’s life, but then the second Christine decides she wants to leave, she just poaches her clients and there are no repercussions. I’m curious to know if you feel like agencies tend to be more all powerful or powerless, or if it’s somewhere in the middle.
That is a really complicated question. Jacqueline has photos that can be used for blackmail and Christine has a high-stakes internship. I think that could be a way to keep a girl, but if you have the kind of clients that the show thinks that the agency/madam provides, then it would be really easy to leave. They want to be with the girl, they don’t care about the agency.
When I left my agency, it was really sudden. I just said, “I’m leaving,” and I told my clients and they wanted to see me still. But the relationships eventually petered out – I was less available than an agency. If you want meet someone tonight at 8 p.m., I’m not good with short notice. But if I wasn’t available at the agency, they’d just send someone else.
But the blackmail thing – I don’t think you can blackmail someone into keeping working for you. I don’t think that would go very well. Christine could just tell her clients, too. I found my clients to be very protective, and if I told them that the woman they were booking me through was blackmailing me, they would have done something about it.
I think that what Jacqueline does to try to keep people is to makes herself indispensable, and then they feel loyalty to her. That’s probably the best way that she has to keep them. The agency that I worked for, the way that they stayed relevant was by creating their own brand and not relying on the girls for their branding.
So am I to understand you did not throw pasta in your agent’s lap when you left?
No, that did not happen. (Laughs.)
Well, I try to leave every job by throwing pasta in my boss’s lap. But unfortunately those situations are not always available. I just called her and said, “Take me off of the list,” and never went back.
This interview has been edited and condensed.